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Apple to turn in first negative year since 2008


Apple, one of the best-performing tech stocks in recent memory, is going to snap a six-year winning streak, barring a remarkable turnaround in the last trading session of 2015.

The shares are currently down more than 4 percent for the year. The last time the tech behemoth's stock closed lower for the year was 2008, when it shed 56.91 percent.

2015 has been a roller-coaster ride for Apple, as the company's shares hit an all-time closing high of $133 on Feb. 23, and an all-time intraday high of $134.54 on April 28. Apple was even added to the Dow Jones industrial average in February, replacing AT&T.

However, the stock has fallen more than 20 percent since hitting the April 28 mark, as possible iPhone market saturation and China growth concerns contributed to its troubles. Apple's plunged has wiped out about $57 billion of its market cap, about as much as fellow Dow component DuPont is worth.  
 Apple Stocks 2015
Source: FactSet
Apple could face another tough year in 2016, according to Dan Ives, tech analyst at FBR Capital Markets.

"I think the blooms are coming off the rose a bit for Apple. Not just in terms of the multiple, or in terms of what investors want to pay, but in terms of products," Ives told CNBC's "Squawk Box" on Tuesday. "It's a make-or-break, white-knuckle period for Apple."

However, Erin Gibbs, equity chief investment officer of S&P Investment Advisory, said Dec. 23 that the company's products should add to its profitability next year.

"Right now we've seen a big hit because there's been some news of slowing iPhone sales," she told CNBC's "Trading Nation." "But we've known that even though iPhone sales make up about two-thirds of the revenue, a lot of the future growth is expected to come from non-iPhone products like the Apple Watch and the iPad."

Apple unveiled a slew of new products this year, including the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus, the Apple Watch, the streaming service Apple Music and the iPad Pro.

The stock has also gained more than 90 percent since CEO Tim Cook took over.

Clarification: Erin Gibbs spoke about Apple on Wednesday, Dec. 23.
— CNBC's Stephanie Yang and Gina Francolla and Reuters contributed to this report.

Powerful Solar Storm to Hit Earth Before New Year's Eve

Bill Cosby charged with 2004 sexual assault of former Temple University employee Andrea Constand in his Pennsylvania home; free on $1 million bail

BY ,

Here's where the laughter ends.

Bill Cosby — America’s Dad — accused of rape by dozens of women, was finally hit with a criminal charge Wednesday before getting released on $1 million bail.

Just weeks before the statute of limitations was set to expire, prosecutors charged Cosby with sexually assaulting a Temple University employee at his suburban Philadelphia mansion in 2004.

“The evidence is strong,” said Montgomery County Prosecutor Kevin Steele, announcing a single count of aggravated indecent assault against the creepy comedian.

Steele described the defenseless victim, tossing a fresh layer of taint on Cosby’s once-wholesome image.

“Frozen, paralyzed, unable to move,” he said. “A person in that state is unable to consent.”

Prosecutors initially declined in 2005 to file charges in the case, citing a lack of evidence.

Accuser Andrea Constand, who has spoken publicly about the encounter with the perverted funnyman, then filed a civil suit against Cosby and settled out of court the following year. In a deposition in that case, Cosby said under oath that he gave Constand halved pills that he described as “three friends to make (her) relax,” according to the affidavit.

Among the last words she recalled hearing:

“Down them. Put ’em down. Put them in your mouth.”

He also acknowledged under oath that he obtained seven prescriptions in his own name for Quaaludes for the purpose of having sex with women.

Disney, Universal Theme Parks Heighten Screenings, Ban Costumes for Adults

Disney announced that metal detectors will be installed at the entrance to Disneyland and its Florida theme parks starting today, as part of enhanced security measures that will also ban adults from wearing masks or costumes and discontinue toy gun sales inside all Disney parks.

The entertainment giant announced the changes quietly Thursday, saying they were not based on "any single event," but were intended to help security personnel and to make guests feel secure.

The portable metal detectors will be positioned beyond the "bag check" area at Disneyland and Walt Disney World parks in Florida. Contract security personnel will randomly select some visitors to pass through the magnetometers as part of a secondary screening. Only some guests will be subjected to 
the extra checks.

The company also announced that it will beef up the deployment of police officers contracted to help with security around the parks. At Disneyland, that means beefing up patrols by the Anaheim Police Department. Disney did not give details about the scope of the expansion.

Disneyland will also increase patrols by explosive-sniffing dogs around the parks and related properties, such as Downtown Disney and its resort hotels, the company said.

The ban on masks and costumes will apply to all guests over 14 years old. And the company will no longer sell toy guns inside its parks, or allow guests to carry toy guns with them, regardless of age. 

Spokeswoman Suzy Brown said the company banned the toy guns "to avoid confusion or distraction for our cast members and security personnel."

The rules are an apparent response to recent terrorist attacks in San Bernardino and Paris. Disney's overseas parks will also enhance security, in accordance with recommendations from its experts at those locations, the company said.

The new rules are included on the company's Disneyland Resort Park Rules page. Spokeswoman Brown said in a statement: "We continually review our comprehensive approach to security and are implementing additional security measures, as appropriate."

A Universal Studios Hollywood spokesperson said the park is testing metal detection as well, but doesn't sell toy guns.

"We have begun testing metal detection at our theme park," the spokesperson said. "We want our guests to feel safe when they come here. We've long used metal detection for special events, such as Halloween Horror Nights. This test is a natural progression for us as we study best practices for security in today's world."
© 2015 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

Scott Weiland of Stone Temple Pilots is dead

By Saeed Ahmed CNN 

Scott Weiland, whose extraordinary career as the lead singer of the Stone Temple Pilots and Velvet Revolver was overshadowed by his unending battle with drug addiction, has died.

He was 48.

His manager Tom Vitorino confirmed his death, but he didn't disclose the cause.

Weiland was found dead while on tour with his latest band.

"Scott Weiland, best known as the lead singer for Stone Temple Pilots and Velvet Revolver, passed away in his sleep while on a tour stop in Bloomington, Minnesota, with his band The Wildabouts," a statement on his Facebook page said. "At this time we ask that the privacy of Scott's family be respected."

A powerful baritone
The Stone Temple Pilots came on the scene at the height of the grunge movement, releasing its first album, "Core," in 1992. Critics were unkind, accusing them of being poseurs riding the coattails of Nirvana and Pearl Jam.

But it didn't matter. "Core" and its 1994 follow-up, "Purple," sold more than 10 million copies. STP won a Grammy in 1994 for the song "Plush" and had monster hits with "Vasoline" and "Interstate Love Song."

A big part of its success was Weiland's powerful baritone that he effortlessly contorted into a raspy growl when needed. A flamboyant personality helped, which he played to the hilt during live shows.

But his drug addiction didn't.

He missed shows repeatedly. He would go into rehab and then relapse. The band had all the trappings of success -- headlining tours, appearances on "Saturday Night Live," platinum sales -- but an unstable frontman.

Forced hiatus
In 1995, Weiland was arrested in Pasadena, California, and charged with possession of heroin and cocaine. His wife posted bond and was driving him home when he leaped out of their moving car and went to his dealer's house.

Stone Temple Pilots was forced to go on hiatus after the release of its 1996 album, "Tiny Music ... Songs from the Vatican Gift Shop," which sold 2 million copies and was widely praised.

The band minced no words as to why.

Weiland, it said in a statement, "has become unable to rehearse or appear for these shows due to his dependency on drugs. He is currently under a doctor's care in a medical facility."

In a 1997 Rolling Stone interview, Weiland acknowledged his addiction problems.

"It got to the point where I didn't feel like I got a good enough rush unless I had one hand on the needle and one hand dialing 911," he told the magazine.

He was apparently enjoying sobriety at the time -- the magazine said he'd been clean for six months -- but it didn't last. He later served time in jail for violating probation in a 1998 heroin conviction.

"Basically, your honor, Mr. Weiland is on the road to killing himself," said Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Norm Montrose at the sentencing.

Bouncing back
Stone Temple Pilots stuttered on through two more albums, but the audience had moved on. It finally disbanded in 2003.

Sure, there were short reunions, and everybody said all the right things.

"I think of some of the tours we were on, and they were a little rambunctious," Weiland told CNN in 2011, three years after a huge reunion tour.

"What we did onstage was kind of what it was like all the time," added bassist Robert DeLeo.
But the friction was still there, and Weiland kept getting fired.

He bounced back, at least professionally.

He joined Velvet Revolver formed by former Guns N' Roses members who'd had enough of Axl Rose.

Weiland delivered hits for them, for sure. The debut album, "Contraband," sold more than 3 million copies and yielded a massive hit, "Slither," and another Grammy for Weiland.

Dogged by drugs
But the drug addiction dogged him.

"Sometimes there's certain people who've just gone too far and you can't fix it," bassist Duff McKagan said in one interview.

In between were arrests, several of them. Aside from the 1995 crack cocaine arrest, there was a DUI in 2003, another DUI in 2007.

He released several solo albums, formed several bands and wrote a memoir, "Not Dead & Not for Sale," that was published in 2011. The memoir included stories of being raped when he was 12 and his relapses, including "a single line of coke" that doomed his future with Velvet Revolver.

He recorded a Christmas album and crooned "The Christmas Song" and "Winter Wonderland."

He talked about reuniting with both Stone Temple Pilots and Velvet Revolver.

Those dreams ended on a tour bus in Minnesota, where he was found dead.

Facebook now automatically makes collages of your photos, adds live streaming for all

by Owen Williams

Facebook is adding an interesting new automatic collage feature, which appears when you share photos from your phone’s camera.
When you tap the photos button, you’ll see automatically created collages based on the location and time you took them.
Collages can be re-arranged before they’re shared, or you can create your own instead. It’s a nice way to share a lot of photos to show off your trip, rather than uploading a ton randomly.

Collage 1
It’s an interesting new offering as Facebook looks to get you to share more things to your feed, rather than only talking privately on services like Messenger.
The feature is rolling out for iPhone users today and will be available on Android “early next year.”
The social network is also adding the ability to stream live video directly from your Newsfeed.
Facebook previously allowed verified users to use the feature with their fans, but now anyone can stream to their friends directly within the app.

Live 2
When you click ‘Update Status’ you’ll see a new option for streaming live video. As you go live, you’ll see your stream overlaid with real-time comments and the names of friends tuning in.
The feature appears to be largely the same as the one that was part of Facebook’s Mentions app for verified users, but with the ability for anyone to use it — provided you’re in the US for now.
On top of the addition of live streaming, Facebook is testing a new menu when you tap ‘What’s on your mind’ at the top of your feed that shows the new sharing options rather than just a box to type in.

Sharing 1
It’s clear the addition of streaming is a way for Facebook to grab back those users streaming on other platforms like Periscope and Meerkat — though it’ll be interesting to see if anyone actually uses it.


Aaron Rodgers' Hail Mary leads to wild win over Lions: 10 things to know

By John Breech
One day after celebrating his 32nd birthday, Aaron Rodgers delivered himself the ultimate birthday present: A 61-yard Hail Mary on the final play of the game to beat the Lions.

The miraculous throw capped a miracle comeback that saw the Packers score two touchdowns in the game's final three-plus minutes in a shocking 27-23 win at Ford Field in Detroit.

It was the second touchdown, though, that's going to have people talking for years.

The game looked all but over with six seconds left and Green Bay sitting at its own 21-yard line. To beat the Lions, the Packers were going to have to go 79 yards on one play.

On what should've been the final play of the game, Rodgers threw a 19-yard pass to James Jones, who lateraled it to Richard Rodgers, who then lateraled it back to Aaron Rodgers. At that point, Rodgers got taken down by Lions defensive end Devin Taylor.

The problem for the Lions? Taylor's thumb got caught in Aaron Rodgers' facemask.

Since a game can't end on a defensive penalty, the facemask call gave the Packers one untimed down from their own 39-yard line, and that's when Rodgers delivered himself the ultimate birthday present.
In need of a win. No time left. Throw it long. Hope.
Posted by NFL on Friday, December 4, 2015
Rodgers took a shotgun snap from the 39, ran 16 yards backward and then scrambled around some more before launching a prayer from just across the 35-yard line that traveled 70 yards in the air.
The Lions were ready for the Hail Mary, but somehow Rodgers managed to throw it to a part of the field where there were more Packers players.

One of those Packers players in that crowd was tight end Richard Rodgers, who somehow managed to box out and outjump everyone for the ball and the win.

The ending was so wild that when Rodgers walked off the field, he referred to the victory as something he'll never forget.

"It's the most amazing game of my life," Rodgers said. "To be a part of that. To never give up."

As the ball sailed in the air, only one thing was going through Rodgers' head.

"Catch it. You got to catch it," Aaron Rodgers said.

Rodgers liked the feeling of the throw as soon as it left his hand. The Packers quarterback put everything he had into it. As you can see below, the ball traveled about 70 yards in the air.

"I felt good that it was going to be in the end zone," Rodgers said. "I got a nice run up and crow-hopped into it. I didn't see Richard until the last second, but when he caught it, I blacked out, I didn't know what happened. I know it was the greatest feeling I've had on the field in a long time."

The most shocking part of the win was how horrible the Packers were before the game's final four minutes. The first half was especially ugly, with the Packers only totaling 78 yards.

Aaron Rodgers was ugly too, only completing 10 of 16 passes for 80 yards.

"We were terrible in the first half," Rodgers said. "The second half we got it going."

Aftter the ugly first half, Rodgers rebounded to go 14 of 20 for 193 yards and two touchdowns in the second half, including the Hail Mary. Rodgers also rushed for a huge 17-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter that was extra big because it came on third-and-11.

Overall, Rodgers finished with 273 yards and three overall touchdowns in the win.

Some teams will celebrate a win for 24 hours and put it behind them. Not the Packers, at least not for this win. Rodgers said he plans to enjoy it for the next few days.

"We're 8-4, we're in the mix. Huge win for us," Rodgers said. "We're going to enjoy it this weekend."

The "Miracle in Motown" is what our Jim Nantz called the Packers' win and it's just catchy enough to stick.

Anyway, the Packers should enjoy it because it was a pivotal one for their playoff chances. If the Falcons or Seahawks lose this Sunday, then Green Bay will have a two-game lead over the NFC's No. 7 team with just four games left.

Virgin Galactic to Hurl Rockets to Space From Boeing 747 Jet

Source: Virgin Galactic
Richard Branson is finding a new use for an old Virgin Atlantic jumbo jetliner: to fling rockets to orbit.

Virgin Galactic, the commercial space company founded by the billionaire, plans to send small rockets inflight from the Boeing 747-400 nicknamed “Cosmic Girl” that it purchased from Branson’s airline.

Branson is among the entrepreneurs vying to shake up the $6 billion commercial launch business known for years-long waits to loft $200 million satellites. Instead of firing large boosters from conventional pads, the new rocketeers are working to loft smaller craft from planes and remote locations in Texas or the South Pacific.

“Air launch enables us to provide rapid, responsive service to our satellite customers on a schedule set by their business and operational needs, rather than the constraints of national launch ranges,” George Whitesides, Virgin Galactic’s chief executive officer, said in a statement Thursday.

The commercial jet replaces WhiteKnightTwo, a twin-hulled carrier vehicle that will still be used to hoist a suborbital tourist craft. Virgin’s SpaceShipTwo venture has been grounded since a training accident killed a pilot last year. A second spaceship is slated to debut in February, with ground and flight tests resuming “soon after,” said Michelle Mendiola, a Virgin spokeswoman.

Test Flights

Virgin expects to begin test flights of its LauncherOne rocket in 2017. It will be mounted under the 747’s left wing, adjacent to a position used by other jumbos to ferry a fifth engine, the company said. 

The spacecraft’s payload has been doubled to ferry 200-kilogram (440-pound) payloads to orbit for less than $10 million.

Newcomers like Virgin Galactic have the potential to slash prices in a field attuned to government contracts and dominated by traditional aerospace powers like United Launch Alliance, a Boeing-Lockheed Martin Corp. venture, and Europe’s Arianespace SA, according to Marco Caceres, director of space studies for Fairfax, Virginia-based consultant Teal Group.

High-profile errors have NFL officiating under further review

Two decades in officiating have taught Dean Blandino to expect and accept criticism, a staple baked into the profession. Now the NFL’s vice president of officiating, Blandino understands the implicit pact referees make, that even perfection likely will enrage half the participants. He still has not seen anything like the siege NFL officials find themselves under this season.

“I’m not really too worried about getting fined: I thought those refs” stunk, San Francisco offensive lineman Alex Boone declared after the 49ers lost this Sunday to the Cardinals. New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski tweeted his agreement with a reporter who opined officials had targeted Gronkowski for pass interference calls. Screenshots and Vines of missed calls circulate on social media every Monday morning, talking points as much as highlight catches and breakaway runs. 

Recently, a former NFL head coach called Blandino to tell him, “Hang in there.”

“It’s just indicative of how much interest there is in the NFL, and ultimately that’s a good thing,” Blandino said Wednesday in a phone interview. “I think a lot of it has to do with a couple mistakes in some high-profile games, and we certainly own those and we want to correct those. I think that has led to more intense scrutiny than ever before.”

The rash of crucial missteps has prompted a search for both root issues and potential solutions. At the NFL owners meetings Wednesday, Commissioner Roger Goodell asked the league’s competition committee to examine ways officiating can be improved, including clarifying rules, training methods and how crews are assembled.

“Our officials do an extraordinary job,” Goodell said. “What we see now is that through technology we see things we could never see before, but what it does is it validates the quality of our officiating. 

We all recognize that officials are going to make mistakes. What we need to do is try to avoid those mistakes as much as possible, train them differently, improve the quality of the officiating and use technology to help them whenever a mistake does occur.”

Despite the high-profile failings, Blandino said the overall performance of officials has remained steady compared to the prior 10 or 15 years. The NFL reviews every play of every game, and through Week 11, Blandino said, officials had committed 4.5 mistakes per game over the course of roughly 160 plays.

The most frequently identified culprit is a sudden experience drain. Over the past two seasons, the NFL added 23 new officials, and 18.5 percent of officials are in either their first or second season. 

Blandino said the league needed to improve a largely static roster of officials. In 2013, only one NFL official had one or two years of experience. In 2012, there were two. It now has an officiating corps that’s in better physical condition but lacks experience.

The NFL pulls new officials from the college ranks and places them in an “advanced development program,” Blandino said. Officials participate in offseason practices, training sessions with older officials and preseason games. The league lost a valuable training asset when NFL Europe folded in 2007, and it has discussed partnering with the Canadian Football League to train officials, Blandino said.

It might not be enough. Longtime official Mike Carey, now the NFL rules expert for CBS, compared the difference between officiating in college and the NFL to the difference between officiating Pop Warner and college games.

“As soon as you come up from Division I, the rule book is far more intricate,” Carey said. “The speed of the game is almost logarithmically faster. It is that dramatically different. You’re used to seeing it on TV. Live at full speed, it is frightening how fast everybody is and how big the collisions are. It takes two or three year to get used to it, and another two or three to be good at it. It’s hard to cover that inexperience.”

“If you think a guy’s a pretty good college official, and that means he’s going to come in and be a good NFL official, it’s not a realistic expectation,” said former VP of officials Mike Pereira, now an analyst for Fox Sports. “This game is faster, and it’s more complex. There’s a reason they don’t let a guy work a Super Bowl until he’s had at least five full seasons. Does that mean officiating will start to improve as this new group gets older? Maybe. There are some good officials in this wave. And there are some guys that are struggling.”

King Tut's tomb: Researchers now 90% sure it contains hidden chambers

The Associated Press
Egypt on Saturday said there is a 90 per cent chance that hidden chambers will be found within King Tutankhamun's tomb, based on the preliminary results of a new exploration of the 3,300-year-old mausoleum.

Researchers say the discovery of a new chamber could shine new light on one of ancient Egypt's most turbulent times, and one prominent researcher has theorized that the remains of Queen Nefertiti might be inside.

Egypt began the search for the hidden chamber last week. Announcing the results of three days of testing in the southern city of Luxor, Antiquities Minister Mamdouh el-Damaty said the findings will be sent to Japan for a month-long analysis before the search is resumed.

Luxor, in southern Egypt, served as the pharaonic capital in ancient times, and is home to sprawling temples and several ancient tombs.

British Egyptologist Nicholas Reeves theorizes that Tutankhamun, better known as King Tut, who died at the age of 19, may have been rushed into an outer chamber of what was originally Nefertiti's tomb. Famed for her beauty, Nefertiti was the subject of a famous 3,300-year-old bust.

Reeves reached his theory after high-resolution images discovered what he said were straight lines in King Tut's tomb. These lines, previously hidden by color and the stones' texture, indicate the presence of a sealed chamber, he said. The images were later broadcast live on national television last September.

Nefertiti was the primary wife of the Pharaoh Akhenaten, who unsuccessfully attempted to switch Egypt to an early form of monotheism. Akhenaten was succeeded by a pharaoh referred to as Smenkhare and then Tut, who is widely believed to have been Akhenaten's son.

Tut, Nefertiti, and Akhenaten's family ruled Egypt during one of its most turbulent times, which ended with a military takeover by Egypt's top general at the time, Horemheb. The whole family's names were wiped out from official records later on.

Reeves believes that Smenkhare is actually Nefertiti.

This is the second find to be announced this week. On Tuesday, el-Damaty said the Austrian Archaeological Institute discovered a "giant fence" dating back over 3,500 years at the site of another ancient capital city, Avaris. The sandstone fence is least 500 meters (yards) long and 7 meters (yards) thick, antiquities official Mahmoud Afifi said.
© The Associated Press, 2015

Mars rover steers toward active sand dunes

The dark band near the top of this Nov. 18 image from Curiosity's navigation camera is part of the Bagnold Dunes. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

by Stephen Clark
The dark band near the top of this Nov. 18 image from Curiosity’s navigation camera is part of the Bagnold Dunes. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The Curiosity rover’s next destination is a moving mound of wind-blown dark sand blanketing the base of Mount Sharp, the focal point of the Mars mission’s research, scientists said this week.

It will take a few days to reach the dunes, and rover drivers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory must be careful to avoid guiding Curiosity too far into the dune field and getting stuck.

A similar predicament ended the mission of the Spirit rover, Curiosity’s predecessor on the red planet, when it drove into a much smaller sand trap in 2009. Engineers were never able to free the rover from the sand pit, and the craft’s solar panels were pointed in the wrong direction to collect energy from the sun as it fell low on the horizon in the Martian winter.

Curiosity will not have the same pitfall as Spirit because it relies on a nuclear power source, but an entangled rover would threaten the future of the mission, which is in its fourth year.

Curiosity will be the first rover to explore an active Martian sand dune up close. The rover is heading for a stretch of sand dunes called the “Bagnold Dunes” named for Ralph Bagnold, a British military engineer who pioneered research into how winds transport sand grains in the early 20th century.

One of the dunes is as tall as a two-story building and as broad as a football field, according to a NASA press release.

Images from a sharp-eyed camera aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter show the dunes are moving up to 1 metre (3 feet) per year, scientists said.

As of Monday, Curiosity was about 200 metres (660 feet) from the dune it is heading to first. The rover has completed further drives this week.

“The Bagnold Dunes are tantalizingly close, and this week is mostly focused on driving to the dunes. 

On Sol 1167 (overnight Tuesday, U.S. time), Curiosity drove 39 metres (128 feet), and the dunes are starting to look pretty big,” wrote Lauren Edgar, a research geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey and a member of the Curiosity science team, in a blog post Wednesday.

Once Curiosity reaches the dunes, scientists plan to use the rover’s robot arm to scoop a sample of sand for delivery to the craft’s internal laboratory instruments. The rover will also use a wheel to dig into the dune to reveal its interior, according to NASA.

Curiosity is slowly trekking up the foothills of Mount Sharp, a three-mile-high peak inside Gale Crater, a basin excavated by an asteroid or comet impact.

This view from the Mast Camera (Mastcam) on NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover, created using multiple images taken Sept. 25, shows a dark sand dune in the middle distance. The rover’s examination of dunes on the way toward higher layers of Mount Sharp will be the first in-place study of an active sand dune anywhere other than Earth. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
The dune campaign is a natural extension of Curiosity’s primary focus of studying ancient geological processes that shaped rocks and made the red planet habitable billions of years ago, scientists said.

“We’ve planned investigations that will not only tell us about modern dune activity on Mars but will also help us interpret the composition of sandstone layers made from dunes that turned into rock long ago,” said Bethany Ehlmann, a scientist at the California Institute of Technology and JPL.

The water flows and volcanism that carved giant channels and built towering mountains on Mars in ancient times are no more. Winds are now the most significant cause of Martian erosion, scientists said.

Wind measurements to prepare for the dune campaign have already begun. Geologists hope to learn how much of a role wind played in forming ancient sedimentary rocks like sandstone compared to the effects of water in transporting sediments.

“We will use Curiosity to learn whether the wind is actually sorting the minerals in the dunes by how the wind transports particles of different grain size,” Ehlmann said in a NASA press release.

Researchers believe dunes on Mars behave differently than they do on Earth. The surface pressure on Mars is about six-tenths of one percent the pressure on Earth, with Martian gravity three times weaker than Earth’s.

“These dunes have a different texture from dunes on Earth,” said Nathan Bridges from the Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory, who leads dune campaign planning with Ehlmann. 

“The ripples on them are much larger than ripples on top of dunes on Earth, and we don’t know why. 

We have models based on the lower air pressure. It takes a higher wind speed to get a particle moving. But now we’ll have the first opportunity to make detailed observations.”

Jeff Gordon comes up short in final drive of his career

Brant James, USA TODAY Sports 
HOMESTEAD, Fla. – There were smiles and there were tears, but there was no storybook ending for Jeff Gordon.

The 44-year-old will retire after 797 races, 93 wins and four championships. An incredible first-ballot Hall of Fame career. But there will be no fifth championship as a send-off into the next phase of his career as a broadcaster and more frequent attendee of kids’ birthday parties and soccer games.

That last page proved too fantastical to come true even in what has been a storybook finish to his career on Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

In finishing sixth, Gordon did not leave a champion but he left with grace.

"I’m a little disappointed; I’ll be honest," Gordon said when the race ended. "When the sun went down, we were missing a little something … just didn’t have something. ... It’s a happy, happy, good day. I wanted to win but we’re still going to celebrate.”

He knew when it was time to go, knew even a few years ago but continued to race and thrived under the urging of friends and family and his team owner Rick Hendrick. In displaying a self-awareness rare in ultra-successful athletes, he left on his own terms, and awash in respect and praise from fans and peers who surrounded his No. 24 Chevrolet before the race.

This was no John Elway ending, winning a championship and an MVP award in his final game, as the Denver Broncos quarterback did in winning Super Bowl XXXIII. But this was no Derek Jeter slow fade, not in any way.

Jeff Gordon took a final walk down the track at Homestead-Miami Speedway ahead of his last race. USA TODAY Sports

Gordon qualified for the Chase for the Sprint Cup on points after not earning a win in the 26-race regular season, but advanced through two rounds to force he and Hendrick to dare believe this sort of ending was possible. For those who have been close to Gordon as he rose from California-via-Indiana sprint car dervish to template for modern drivers – NASCAR, IndyCar, the lot - this dash for a final title may have been no surprise. But for the cynical outside world, where fairytale endings are quashed, this should not have happened.

It seemed more destined to happen when Gordon won for the ninth time at Martinsville Speedway in the first race of the third round of this Chase, benefitting from Matt Kenseth’s punt of race-leading Joey Logano to earn an automatic berth in the one-off final here.

But on Sunday, reality. And in this case, not a bad reality, despite the initial disappointment.

Jeff Gordon didn’t give his fans one more championship. But he gave them one more memory, and an exit worthy of his career.

Jennifer Aniston Was Replaced on Friends and Nobody Noticed Until Now

Jennifer Aniston was replaced by a stand-in during one scene on an episode of the beloved sitcom Credit: Warner Bros. Television

Eagle eyes! Jennifer Aniston was replaced by a stand-in on an episode of Friends, and it wasn’t until recently that a particular fan noticed.
Jordan D’Amico took to the website RecentlyHeard to document his stealthy observation. He explained that during a marathon viewing, he noticed that Aniston — who played Rachel Green — was replaced during one scene in the Season 9 episode entitled “The One With the Mugging.”

“Only a few minutes into the episode, an enthusiastic Rachel rushes into Monica’s apartment to tell Joey that he got an audition with the famous and fictional actor, Leonard Hayes, played by Jeff Goldblum,” D’Amico wrote. “The three friends admit to admiring the actor. Joey (played by Matthew LeBlanc) goes to sit back down. It’s at this point that… BAM!”

Lo and behold, the Emmy-winning actress, 46, was nowhere to be seen. Instead, a stand-in with much darker hair and who was wearing a different colored shirt, was standing and smiling next to Joey, where Rachel was supposed to be.

This isn’t the first time a fan has noticed an error on the beloved sitcom. In another episode, Courteney Cox’s stand-in was also accidentally left in.

Friends aired on NBC from September 1994 to May 2004, spanning 10 seasons. In addition to Cox, LeBlanc, and Aniston, the show also starred Lisa Kudrow, David Schwimmer, and Matthew Perry.

Tell Us: Did you notice the stand-in on the episode?

Billionaire's Supersonic Jet Advances With Factory Plans, Airbus

Aerion, the supersonic-jet maker backed by Texas billionaire Robert Bass, plans to choose a manufacturing site during the first half of next year as it targets delivering the first faster-than-sound business aircraft in 2023.

The timeline unveiled Monday fleshes out how Aerion and partner Airbus Group SE intend to build a civilian plane capable of trans-sonic travel, a niche left vacant since the retirement of the Concorde in 2003. The team has made preliminary designs for a carbon-fiber wing structure, fuselage, landing gear and a fuel system, among other components.

“We see clear and achievable technical solutions to the design of a supersonic jet, and a realistic road map for helping Aerion proceed toward construction and flight,” Airbus Senior Vice President Ken McKenzie said in a statement.

Airbus will provide major components and Aerion will do the final assembly, the companies said in the statement released at the National Business Aviation Association trade show in Las Vegas. For the production site, Aerion needs a 100-acre (40-hectare) area near a U.S. airport with a runway at least 9,000 feet (2,700 meters) long, The plan is to break ground on the factory in 2018.

Aerion is targeting the first flight of the AS2 for 2021. The project began in 2002 and was put on hold by the 2008-09 financial crisis.

The collaboration with Airbus announced last year increases Aerion’s chances of building a private jet that can break the sound barrier. The AS2 is intended to fly efficiently at lower speeds over land because of flight restrictions related to sonic booms. Over oceans, the aircraft can accelerate to Mach 1.5, which is 1.5 times the speed of sound or about 750 miles (1,200 kilometers) per hour at sea level.
Inside the jet
Inside the jet
Source: Aerion Corp.
While military jets have had supersonic capabilities for decades, the economics are daunting for civilian operations. High ticket prices helped do in the Concorde after 27 years of service, which slurped twice as much fuel as a Boeing Co. jumbo jet while carrying only one-fourth as many passengers.

In the years since Air France and British Airways parked their Concordes, would-be supersonic jet developers have turned to business aircraft in hopes of putting newer technology in a smaller airframe to attract wealthy buyers and globe-trotting chief executive officers.

Aerion has begun to choose suppliers and plans to pick an engine maker during the first half of next year, CEO Doug Nichols said in the statement. The cabin will be developed by Inairvation, a venture between Lufthansa Technik AG and F. List GmbH.

“We will proceed with an engine that allows us to meet our performance goals with the minimum changes required,” Nichols said. “Solutions are in sight with today’s engine technology.”

Court ruling gives Sandusky back his $4,900-a-month Penn State pension

HARRISBURG, Pa. -- The state must restore the $4,900-a-month pension of former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky that was taken away three years ago when he was sentenced to decades in prison on child molestation convictions, a court ordered Friday. 

A Commonwealth Court panel ruled unanimously that the State Employees' Retirement Board wrongly concluded Sandusky was a Penn State employee when he committed the crimes that were the basis for the pension forfeiture. 

"The board conflated the requirements that Mr. Sandusky engage in `work relating to' PSU and that he engage in that work `for' PSU," wrote Judge Dan Pellegrini. "Mr. Sandusky's performance of services that benefited PSU does not render him a PSU employee." 

Sandusky, 71, collected a $148,000 lump sum payment upon retirement in 1999 and began receiving monthly payments of $4,900. 

The board stopped those payments in October 2012 on the day he was sentenced to 30 to 60 years in prison for sexually abusing 10 children. A jury found him guilty of 45 counts for offenses that ranged from grooming and fondling to violent sexual attacks. Some of the encounters happened inside university facilities. 

The basis for the pension board's decision was a provision in the state Pension Forfeiture Act that applies to "crimes related to public office or public employment," and he was convicted of indecent assault and involuntary deviate sexual intercourse. 

The judges said the board's characterization of Sandusky as a Penn State employee at the time those offenses occurred was erroneous because he did not maintain an employer-employee relationship with the university after 1999. 

The judges ordered the board to pay back interest and reinstated the pension retroactively, granting him about three years of makeup payments. 

Sandusky attorney Richard A. Beran said the board had taken from the Sanduskys what was rightfully theirs. 

"Perhaps a majority lacked the courage to apply the law as stated," Beran said. He called the December 2014 decision "certainly one that probably pleased the public in light of the current state of the Pennsylvania pension system, but under the law it was very clear he was entitled to it and his wife is entitled to the pension if Jerry predeceases her." 

Beran said he expected the retirement system to pursue an appeal to the state Supreme Court, but State Employees' Retirement System spokesman Jay Pagni said he could not speculate on what action might be taken. 

"We just received the order today," Pagni said. "We are reviewing it and we will present that analysis to the board." He was unsure how much Sandusky would receive in back payments and interest. 

Sandusky, housed at Greene State Prison, is pursuing an appeal of his conviction. Although Penn State employees are not state workers, university employees are allowed to participate in the state government pension system.

Ex-Raiders DE Anthony Smith found guilty of murdering three men

image by Mike Powell
Former Raiders defensive end Anthony Wayne Smith was found guilty Thursday of murdering three men, including two whose faces appeared to have been branded with a hot iron.
A Los Angeles County jury convicted the 48-year-old Smith of three counts of murder in the shooting of two brothers in 1999 and the stabbing of another man in 2001.

The jury found that all three had been kidnapped and tortured, It deadlocked on a fourth murder charge.

Smith, who retired from the NFL in 1998, could faces life in prison without the possibility of parole at his Dec. 21 sentencing.

Smith's attorney, Michael Evans, said his client maintains his innocence and will appeal the convictions.

Evidence at the trial included two identifications by witnesses, zip ties found on one of the victim's hands that came from the same production batch as ties in Smith's possession, and rope found on one body that was similar to rope also in Smith's possession, according to Deputy District Attorney Tom Trainor, who prosecuted the case

Also compelling, Trainor said, were books about killing techniques found in Smith's possession. The titles included "Kill Without Joy!" "Professional Killers: An Inside Look," and "The Outlaw's Bible."
No murder weapons were recovered, no DNA evidence was presented, and prosecutors didn't address possible motives at trial.

Defense attorney Evans said the evidence connecting Smith to the killings was insufficient and parts of the investigation were improper.

Evans said he didn't understand why the jury found Smith guilty and that he was disappointed that jurors declined to explain their reasoning afterward. The judge in the case declined to compel the jurors to explain their verdicts, Evans said.

"My client's facing life without the possibility of parole here, and I think he deserves at least the benefit of that knowledge," Evans said.

In 2012, Smith was awaiting retrial on a murder charge in the 2008 death of Maurilio Ponce when he was charged with three additional cold-case killings.

They include the 1999 killing of Kevin and Ricky Nettles. The brothers were found shot to death and their bodies dumped about eight miles apart after they were kidnapped from a Los Angeles car wash. Both had U-shaped branding burns on their cheeks, and Ricky Nettles also had numerous burns across his abdomen and feet, according to evidence presented at trial.

Smith also was convicted the June 2001 killing of Dennis Henderson, who was kidnapped in Los Angeles with another man by several gunmen. The other man was released, but Henderson was found stabbed to death in a rental car, his body covered in more than 40 non-fatal stab wounds inflicted before his throat was slashed, according to evidence presented at trial.

The jury deadlocked in the killing of Ponce, a friend of Smith. Prosecutors had argued that Smith lured Ponce to an Antelope Valley desert highway where the mechanic was beaten, stomped and shot over a business deal gone wrong.

Smith was drafted as a pass rusher 11th overall by the Los Angeles Raiders in 1990. He amassed 57 1/2 sacks and 190 tackles before retiring in 1998, after the team returned to Oakland.

Fred Thompson, with larger-than-life persona, dies at 73

Fred Thomson, the former U.S. senator from Tennessee, Republican presidential candidate and “Law and Order” actor, died Sunday after a recurrence of lymphoma. He was 73.

Thompson’s family announced the news in a statement, which was published in The Tennessean.

“It is with a heavy heart and a deep sense of grief that we share the passing of our brother, husband, father, and grandfather who died peacefully in Nashville surrounded by his family,” the statement said.

It continued: "Fred once said that the experiences he had growing up in small-town Tennessee formed the prism through which he viewed the world and shaped the way he dealt with life.  Fred stood on principle and common sense, and had a deep love for and connection with the people across Tennessee whom he had the privilege to serve in the United States Senate.  He enjoyed a hearty laugh, a strong handshake, a good cigar, and a healthy dose of humility.  Fred was the same man on the floor of the Senate, the movie studio, or the town square of Lawrenceburg, his home."

"Fred believed that the greatness of our nation was defined by the hard work, faith, and honesty of its people.  He had an enduring belief in the exceptionalism of our country, and that America could provide the opportunity for any boy or girl, in any corner of our country, to succeed in life. "

Thompson, born in 1942, served in the senate from December 1994 to January 2003.

Following his time in the senate, Thompson played District Attorney Arthur Branch on Law & Order for five seasons, leaving the show to run for president.

Thought to be a contender during the early stages of the 2008 Republican presidential primary cycle, Thompson drew little support in many of the early states and he took a big hit when the former Southern senator failed to win South Carolina. He eventually dropped out in late January.

After leaving the race, he campaigned extensively for presidential nominee John McCain, and briefly sought support to become chairman of the Republican National Committee before quitting after a few months.

"Fred Thompson lived life to the very fullest," said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. in a statement. "The first in his family  to go to college, Fred would go on to become Watergate lawyer, Senate colleague, presidential candidate, radio personality, and icon of silver and small screen alike who didn't just take on criminals as an actor but as a real-life prosecutor too."

Thompson's rise to the Senate was atypical. He had never before held public office, but he overwhelmingly won a 1994 special election for Al Gore's old Senate seat after connecting with voters. In 1996 he easily won a six-year term.

The son of a car salesman, Thompson was born in Sheffield, Ala., and grew up in Lawrenceburg, Tenn., where he was a star athlete. He was 17 when he married Sarah Lindsey. The couple, who divorced in 1985, lived in public housing for a year as newlyweds.

Thompson graduated from Memphis State University in 1964 and earned his law degree from Vanderbilt University in 1967. To pay for school, he worked at a bicycle plant, post office and motel.

Thompson went on to become a lawyer in Nashville. In 1969, he became an assistant U.S. attorney, then volunteered in 1972 to work on the re-election campaign of former Republican Sen. Howard Baker. A year later, Baker selected Thompson to be chief minority counsel on the committee investigating the Watergate scandal.

Afterward, Thompson returned to Tennessee and represented Marie Ragghianti, the head of the Tennessee Parole Board who was fired in 1977 after exposing a pardon-selling scheme. Ragghianti won reinstatement and her case was made into a 1985 movie titled "Marie," based on the 1983 book "Marie: A True Story," by Peter Maas. The producers asked Thompson to play himself, which launched his acting career.

"Fred Thompson served the people of Tennessee and America with great honor and distinction," said Sen. Bob Corker, R Tenn. in a statement Sunday night. "From the courtroom to Capitol Hill to Hollywood, his larger than life personality was infectious and had a way of making all of those around him strive to be better."

Thompson once called the Senate a "remarkable place" but, like Hollywood, said there was "frustration connected with it." He said he was disappointed the Governmental Affairs Committee didn't get more time in 1997 to investigate the fund-raising practices of the 1996 presidential election.

Some thought his high-profile role as chairman of the hearings could launch a presidential bid. That did not materialize in 2000 after the hearings were dismissed as political theater.

"They ran me for a while and then they took me out of the race, and all the time I was kind of a bystander," Thompson said in 2002 about speculation over his presidential prospects two years earlier.

Just before leaving the Senate, Thompson told the Associated Press that too much time was spent on meaningless matters and partisan bickering.

"On important stuff, where the interests are really dug in on both sides, it's extremely difficult to get anything done," he said at the time.

In June 2002, Thompson married Jeri Kehn, a political and media specialist.

After retiring from politics, Thompson hosted a conservative radio talk show between 2009 and 2011 
and became a TV advertising pitchman for American Advisers Group, a reverse mortgage financial company.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Hiker Finds 1.2K-Year-Old Viking Sword

By Jenn Gidman (Newser) – 
Goran Olsen was enjoying a leisurely hike recently in Norway when he stopped near the fishing village of Haukeli, about 150 miles west of Oslo. Under some rocks along a well-traversed path, he made a discovery that's now the envy of every detectorist in Scandinavia: a 30-inch wrought-iron Viking sword, estimated to be about 1,200 years old, CNN reports. One would think a sword that old would be so decrepit it could never be wielded again, but a Hordaland County archaeologist says it just needs a little polish and a new grip to be good to go.

"The sword was found in very good condition," Jostein Aksdal notes, per the Local. County conservator Per Morten Ekerhovd adds, per CNN: "It's quite unusual to find remnants from the Viking age that are so well preserved … it might be used today if you sharpened the edge."

The extreme weather in the area likely had something to do with the sword's relatively unscathed condition: The mountains are covered in snow and ice six months out of the year, and there's no humidity in the summer, so the sword would have been protected. No one's sure what the blade's backstory is yet, but scientists are already thinking beyond winter and into the springtime thaw. 

"When the snow has gone in spring, we will check the place where the sword was found," Aksdal says. "If we find several objects, or a tomb, perhaps we can find the story behind the sword." 

Ekerhovd says the weapon could have been from a burial site or belonged to someone passing through who may have died. But "it was a costly weapon, and the owner must have used it to show power," Aksdal tells the Local. The Viking artifact has been sent for conservation at the University Museum of Bergen. (The inscription on this medieval sword has become a real head-scratcher.)

*The photo shown above is not the actual sword, it is for illustration purposes only.

‘Sunday Night Football’ Ratings Hit Low As ‘Walking Dead’ Returns; ‘Quantico’ Drops

On a packed Sunday that saw the fall TV season in full swing and the NFL season really starting to kick, the New York Giants won but Sunday Night Football (5.8/16) was thrown for a loss. Maybe it was the return of blockbuster The Walking Dead on AMC at 9 PM for its sixth season, or the baseball playoffs, but in metered market results, last night’s primetime Giants-San Francisco 49ers game on NBC got a 13.1/22 in metered-market results to hit a season low. Although it was a rise of just 2% over last year’s SNF Week 5 game, the Giants’ 30-27 victory was down 11% from the MM result that the New Orleans Saints’ OT victory over the Dallas Cowboys drew on October 4.

A tight and tense game, with some determining moves by Eli Manning and Larry Donnell, saw the Giants win at home, but fast nationals-wise it was a no win for the network or the NFL. The result among adults 18-49 took a 33% hit from the final numbers of the October 4 game. Fast nationals to fast nationals, last night’s Giants-49ers matchup was down 24% from last week. Viewershipwise, the zombie apocalypse was probably most profound, with a 33% drop to 16.13 million compared with last week. Now, those numbers will obviously change later as they always do for live events like SNF – though TWD may be already repeating its numerous wins over SNF of last season when we see the AMC show’s numbers. As things are right now, NBC easily wins the night with a 5.0/15 rating and 14.11 million total viewers.

NFL overruns on CBS pushed that net’s primetime start back to 7:33 PM in the East and Central time zones – which means their numbers are tentative. As it stands, a new 60 Minutes (3.0/9), with a sitdown with President Barack Obama, is up 114% over last week, and Madam Secretary (1.5/4), with a cameo by former Secretary of State Madeline Albright, bopped up 7% over last week’s premiere. The Good Wife (1.2/3) was even with last week’s non-NFL overrun airing, and CSI: Cyber (0.9/3) took a 10% ratings power-down from its soft October 4 Season 2 debut.

Over on ABC, 10 PM freshman Quantico (1.6/5) saw a 16% drop in the demo for its third week after holding on strong from its debut to Week 2. Again, with the Season 6 premiere going 90 minutes last night, count in the TWD factor here. Lead-in Blood & Oil (0.8/2) stumbled 38% in direct competition with SNF and TWD. The early part of ABC’s night had the season premiere of America’ Funniest Home Videos (1.1/4) dip 8% from last year’s opener to a debut low in fast nationals. At 8 PM, Once Upon A Time (1.6/5) saw an 11% decline.

Unlike last week, Fox did not have an NFL lead-in and it saw a number of declines last night compared to two weeks ago — plus, not to become boring, there was the TWD issue. Bob’s Burgers (1.0/3) started Fox’s originals with a 17% drop from its last new show of September 27. The Simpsons (1.5/5) was even with its season premiere two weeks ago, but down a hard 44% from the NFL-boosted numbers of October 4. Obviously down from last week, Brooklyn Nine-Nine (1.3/4), Family Guy (1.4/4) and Last Man On Earth (1.1/3) were also down — 13%, 27% and 21%, respectively — from their non-NFL airings two weeks ago.

And yes, those Walking Dead numbers will help sort all this out when they come in later today or tomorrow.